Like an awful lot of gypsy rock bands, Kagero model themselves on Gogol Bordello, right down to frontman Kaz Fujimoto’s wry, surreal sense of humor and probably intentionally twisted English syntax. But Kagero’s sound is different. Although their lively minor-key songs are obviously made for dancing and keeping the party going, they’re a mostly acoustic band: other than a handful of electric guitar tracks and occasional keyboards, their lineup is totally acoustic, including a punchy horn section. Their songwriting is more eclectic than most of the rest of the gypsy crew, reaching into oldtime swing, hip-hop and sometimes taking on a little bit of a ska bounce. Any way you slice it, they’re one of New York’s most entertaining bands, as their new album Gumbo du Jour confirms. They’re playing the album release show sometime in the late hours of Feb 2 at Nublu and if you’re going, get there early because the place will be packed. People dance at Kagero shows.
The opening track, Smokin’ on Bali Shag, immediately sets the tone, a violin-fueled retro 20s swing shuffle with a surreal Cockney hip-hop flavor: imagine the Streets fronting Gogol Bordello. Most of it seems to be the random observations of a guy who’s really hungover. Back to Jakarta is a slyly funny look at a global problem: “I like my country but there’s no employment,” says the narrator, asking himself, “Should I stay just five more years, that’s what I said five years ago.”
One of the album’s funniest songs is Rockstar in a Grocery Store: the violin dances down the scale and sets off the tale of a guy who can only afford breakfast in Chinatown and may never be able to take a real vacation, but nothing’s gonna stop him from playing with his band every night. They keep that vibe going (outside of a gorgeously uneasy piano solo) with My Freedom, a look at life from beneath the Manhattan bridge from the point of view of an irrepressible guy who may be “less rich in my pocket but I’m richer in my mind.”
Angel Baby, a wry bossa rock tune, paints a picture of a guy who’s way too drunk to be hitting on the girls – and of course that’s what he does. Life’s a Thrill nicks the lick from Sunny, Bobby Hebb’s big 60s pop hit and turns it into gypsy rock with hip-hop touches and edgy horns. Girl from the Coldest Country recounts how sad it feels to suddenly see your favorite Polish girl bartender, who “was good at making drinks with some strange tropic names,” walk away to hopefully a better life far from her job at 301 West 42nd Street (Port Authority, in case you’re wondering).
The best tune here, the Ukrainian/klezmer-fueled It’s a Perfect Day to Laugh is also the hardest one to figure out, lyrically speaking. The band takes a surprisingly successful detour into funk with Greencard Bride, with its LMAO intro and then a sobering look at the cynical reality of life under the radar. Gypsy Connection celebrates gypsy rock in all its unselfconscious glory: “Yes I’m New York country boy, try to play cool and emotionless but the night is so exuberant.” Lonely Rose Vendor has another funny intro to kick off a bristling, fiery, mariachi-tinged story about the kind of entrepreneur you see late at night trying to cajole happy couples into buying things they really don’t need. The album ends with Song from Africa, a sarcastically funny tune about a possibly homeless busker who’s had enough of the clueless gentrifier girls who pester him to “play that song from Africa.,” and then the hard-hitting Morna, which has a tinge of ska. What a great album: thirteen tracks, all of them excellent, plus you can dance to them. It’s early in the year, but this is contender for best of 2013, right up there with the Brooklyn What and Pete Galub.